Microsoft Ink

I've worked on Pen and Ink at Microsoft since 2016, and the projects below are a sample of the work that has been done. Not everything has shipped, most of it isn't perfect, but the core ideas represent where pen and ink are going. This digital version of something so analog, using a pen, will allow users to work in a way that works best for them.

US Patent 404273 - Presenting an Overlay Canvas to Ink Edit Typed Text
US Patent 404272 - Use of Intelligent Scaffolding to Teach Gesture-Based Ink Interactions
US Patent 404469 - Mapping Electronic Pen Attributes to Advanced Productivity Action

2 years

Adam Riddle // Robin Troy // Chuck Cummins // Dan Parish // Elise Livingston // Tucker Hatfield // Emily Tran // Marta Luis Burguete

Ink in Office Commercials

Below are a few Microsoft commercials to showcase some of the features related to ink. These investments are larger than just inking in Office - instead this effort highlights the collaboration between a variety of app teams, the Windows platform team, the hardware team and marketing.

Ink Gestures

When users ink in Office, there are three outcomes: to create content that's part of the document, to annotate or add comments to a document, or to use ink as a tool for editing content. The ink gesture library is that tool for editing. When users click the Ink Editor button in the ribbon, their pen becomes the tool for deleting words, highlighting, selection, adding new words, etc.

Ink Intelligence

For those who have to build documents, we know it can be hard starting. Some like to build an outline, others might draw shapes for how or where elements of a presentation could go. We think the best way for users to start is with their pen - it's something everyone is already familiar with. The great thing about ink intelligence is, Office can take those hand-written notes or shapes and transform it into something polished and final, not just allowing users an easy way to start, but an easy way to finish.

Microsoft Office Pen Research

This project was to investigate how people were using the pen and ink in Office, and did they understand how to complete simple tasks using our existing tools? We did a series of usability studies that focused on aspects like drawing, selection, ribbon organization, and conversion. We spent 2 months observing how customers use the Draw Tab by having them recreate two simple diagrams using only pen and touch in Win32 PowerPoint.


A lot of really bad drawings. PowerPoint is a tool used by millions of people to create polished, professional content. We created the Draw Tab a few years ago as a way for many of these people to get the ideas in their head onto the slide in an easy, natural way. Unfortunately, the current design is confusing, and the tools don’t work like most of our users would expect.


We spent many hours watching video recordings from our interviews to understand patterns and errors our users were making with the simple activity we had them do. From there, we created several different affinity diagrams, trying to synthesize all the problems we saw, it's a few key takeaways we'll go design for.


1. Drawing with the pen is easy. Everything else is hard.
2. Ink features tend to not be consistent with how people expect technology to work.
3. Lack of feedback causes people to make errors and not understand what the pen is going to do.
4. Experience cliff that people can’t overcome.
5. People can’t complete tasks because they don’t understand how to approach using the pen.
6. People don't know what they can and can't do.